Sustainable House Interior

Kitchen cabinets are the built-in furniture installed in many kitchens for storage of food, cooking equipment, and often silverware and dishes for table service. Appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and ovens are often integrated into kitchen cabinetry. There are many options for cabinets available at present.

As commonly used today, the term kitchen cabinet denotes a built-in kitchen installation of either a floor or a wall cabinet. Typically, multiple floor cabinets are covered by a single counter and floors and walls are not accessible behind and under the cabinets. Kitchen cabinets per se were invented in the 20th century. A precursor, not built-in, was the Hoosier cabinet of the 1910s, a single piece of furniture incorporating storage and work surfaces, of which over 2 million were sold by 1920.

Pre-WW-I cabinet design. Typical kitchens before World War I used freestanding work tables and a pantry for dry storage. Cupboards were sometimes used in kitchens, though in larger houses dishes were more typically stored in the dining room or butler's pantry. Perishable foods such as milk, meat, and vegetables were purchased daily.

Post-WW-I industrial era. Increasing interest in household efficiency led to pioneering motion studies of housework in the 1920s by industrial psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth. Subsequent improvements in kitchen design set the stage for the familiar built-in cabinetry of the present day. At the time, work surfaces were typically made of linoleum or stainless steel. Improvements in technology eventually made industrial-scale cabinet production possible.

Post-WW-II cabinet design. In the U.S., countertops of high-pressure laminates such as Formica became popular. Laminates led to the adoption of the seamless flush-surface kitchen design that is common today, though laminates themselves began to be supplanted by solid surface materials, such as stone and quartz. In Europe, built-in cabinets had also been pioneered in the 1920s. With improved materials, the frameless cabinet style, notable for its architectural minimalism reminiscent of Bauhaus design, emerged in European kitchen design and was soon adopted worldwide.

Post-modern cabinet design trends. Other elements of kitchen design affect the choice of cabinetry. For example, post-modern kitchens tend to be characterized by hardwood floors, earth tones, and bare walls in place of wallpaper which, in turn, affect cabinetry choices. Various trends include the introduction of more expensive options, space-saving measures, a larger number of ovens, thicker countertops [2–3 inches (51–76 mm)], taller base cabinets, honed finishes, taller countertop appliances, undercounter and task lighting, and higher [e.g., 9-foot (2.7 m)] ceilings. While these are general kitchen design trends, they have also influenced cabinetry.

Kitchens today. Modern kitchen design has improved partly as a result of ergonomic research. Functionality is important; one research study had "anthropological scientists" observing homeowners "interact" with their kitchen cabinets. Kitchens are larger and have more cabinets; some kitchens may have as many as fifty drawers and cabinet doors. New features today include deep drawers for cookware, pull-out shelves to avoid excess bending, sponge trays on the front of sink cabinets, pullout hideaway garbage/recycling containers, pull-out spice cabinets, lazy susans in corner cabinets, vertical storage for cookie sheets, full-extension drawer slides, and drawers and doors with so-called soft-close/positive-close mechanisms enabling drawers to shut quietly, or which shut fully after being pushed only partially. As housing stocks get older, many homeowners face problems with visually unappealing older kitchen cabinets; in such situations, there is a choice to buy new (most expensive), reface existing (less expensive), or to strip and refinish existing (least expensive if done by the homeowner) cabinets. By 2009, there was more emphasis on cabinets designed with environmental factors in mind. So-called "green cabinets" were becoming more popular.As homes in Western countries became more airtight to save on heating and cooling costs, air quality has sometimes suffered as gases which are released from resins as they cure. Resins, organic materials which convert from liquid to solid form, are used to manufacture engineered wood (e.g., particleboard) frequently used to build kitchen cabinet carcases can be a factor.

Considering that North Americans spend a large proportion of their lives indoors, it’s clear why this is a key issue in designing healthy spaces. Additionally, air quality is not a stand-alone problem; rather, every other component of the home can affect air quality. Air quality can be compromised by off-gassing from cabinetry, countertops, flooring, wall coverings or fabrics; by cooking by-products released into the air, and by mold caused by excess moisture or poor ventilation.

Universal design Some designers have begun to build houses and cabinetry to address the needs of users throughout the human life cycle and among all user capabilities, under a concept called universal design. The United States requires universal design for federally-funded housing, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Universal design features include easily manipulated handles, low switches, and numerous other innovations.

Cabinets consist of six-sided wooden boxes or "carcases" closed on five sides with a door on the sixth.

Cabinet faces. Solid wood remains a popular choice for cabinet parts, including bases, frames, doors, and sides. However, traditional-style solid-wood cabinetry is more expensive and many consumers opt for cabinets that incorporate particle board or plywood to reduce costs. Pricing for solid wood cabinet doors depends on the wood species used. For example, teak is more expensive than cherry, which is more expensive than maple, which is more expensive than oak. Similarly, solid wood is more expensive than plywood which, in turn, is more expensive than particle board or similar sheet goods.

Cabinet body. The cabinet carcase is usually made from plywood or high-quality particle board, particularly for flat sections that do not need to be shaped, such as shelves, cabinet sides, or drawer bottoms. Typical plywood thickness in these applications varies from 3⁄8 in (9.5 mm) to 3⁄4 in (19 mm) [with 1⁄4 in (6.4 mm) used often for drawer bottoms]. Stiffness and strength are important factors since cabinets are expected to retain their shape over time and avoid bend or sag while continuing to support a heavy load. The best choices for strength are plywood and higher-quality particle board; they also have the benefit of being less susceptible to warping from moisture. Stiffness increases rapidly with shelf thickness; regardless of material choice, a 3⁄4-inch (19 mm) shelf is 73% stiffer than a 5⁄8-inch (16 mm) shelf, even though it is only 20% thicker. Shelves made of some particle board formulations, especially where not reinforced, may sag or deform. Particle board strength and rigidity varies by formulation and is determined by the resin used. Plywood carcases are usually assembled with screws and nails while particle board carcases do not hold screws or nails as well and therefore are typically joined with glue, groove joints, or mechanical fasteners such as confirmat-cam assemblies. Generally, plywood-carcase cabinets are more expensive than particle-board-carcase cabinets.

Cabinet frames and doors may be fashioned from solid wood (typically a species of hardwood), medium density fiberboard (MDF), particle board, plywood, or a combination, and may include lamination or a surface coating over these core materials. A floating panel in a door can be hardwood-veneer plywood captured within a solid wood or MDF frame. Solid wood and MDF can be edge-shaped, e.g., to round or pattern the edges of doors, drawer fronts, or face frames. Particle board, once manufactured, cannot be edge-shaped suitably. Plywood cannot be shaped without revealing its veneer core, often considered unsightly, though edge-shaped furniture-grade plywood with thin plies [ca. 1⁄16-inch (1.6 mm) ] is considered attractive for limited uses. MDF, once shaped, can be coated conformally with flexible veneers such as thermofoil or can be painted. It can also be covered with wood veneer or high-pressure laminate but only if the edge profile is square or approximately so (to within the veneer thickness). Today many cabinet doors and drawer fronts utilize an MDF core. Doors and drawer fronts may also be fashioned of particle board surfaced with high-pressure laminate. Natural wood offers its subtle combination of color, grain, pore pattern, variable absorption and smoothness of finish, and variation with viewing angle and lighting condition. The appearance of natural wood can only be achieved with solid wood components (wherever edges are shaped) or possibly veneer (where they are not); as already pointed out, the two approaches can be combined in a single cabinet. Various transparent grain-revealing finishes including shellac, lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane have been devised. A built-up finish may optionally utilize diverse pigments, dyes, bleaches, glazes, or wood fillers that may highlight contrasting colorants. Finishes can be applied by brush or spray and may comprise many separately applied layers. Accordingly, finishes formulated by differing manufacturers do not, in general, exactly match. Distressing the wood cabinets is another finish application and is often done in conjunction with glazes, stains, paints or dyes. This process consists of adding manufactured imperfections to cabinet doors to give the wood cabinets an aged, distressed, old-world rustic appearance. Common techniques include creating wormholes, rasping, dings and dents and sanding through the wood and layers of finish unevenly.

Trade-off: solid wood versus particle board. Solid wood and plywood are durable and strong, but are more costly and offer less dimensional stability at manufacture than particle board. For cabinets and surface finishes that may sustain damage during long use, serviceability is a consideration. In case of damage, solid wood can be repaired by a qualified furniture refinisher, other than the manufacturer, to achieve a perfect match to the surrounding finish. Veneered MDF and particle board components, if damaged, must be replaced by the manufacturer. If water reaches the core, particleboard especially will swell irreversibly (therefore it is never used in home sheathing applications, where oriented strand board OSB is used instead). Tolerances for the use of screw fasteners in particleboard are tighter than for solid wood or plywood, and screws often loosen over time if over-torqued. However, MDF and particle board are good choices where cabinets are well-constructed, will be cared-for, where service life is projected as intermediate, e.g., where the kitchen will be remodeled approximately every 15 years, or where the manufacturer can be relied upon to supply replacement components if needed.

Cabinets may be either face-frame or frameless in construction. Each option provides features and drawbacks.

Face-frame cabinets. Traditional cabinets are constructed using face frames which typically consist of narrow strips of hardwood framing the cabinet box opening. Cabinet carcasses were traditionally constructed with a separate face frame until the introduction of modern engineered wood such as particle board and medium-density fiberboard along with glues, hinges and fasteners required to join them. A face frame ensures squareness of the cabinet front. It also increases rigidity and provides a mounting point for hinges. Face-frame cabinets retain popularity in the U.S. An important distinction between modern (manufactured) and traditional custom-built face-frame cabinets relates to the catalog-selection of cabinet components entailed by mass production. Original custom face-frame cabinets accommodated multiple sections (cavities) in a single carcass. But stock (or semi-custom) face-frame cabinets are constructed individually and joined during installation. As a result, modern face-frame cabinets differ in having significantly wider (double-width) stile materials overall after installation. Two 1 1⁄2-inch (38 mm) stiles joined as adjacent cabinets result in, effectively, a 3-inch (76 mm) stile. Wide stiles can interfere with access to the cabinet interior. When base cabinets were typically shelved, this was not much of a drawback. But with base cabinets increasingly being fitted with trays and drawers (using modern hardware), the extra stile width results in significantly less access to the cabinet cavity space. This drawback does not pertain to custom face-frame cabinets.

Pots in a cabinet

Custom. Custom face-frame cabinets offer more efficient use of space because double width stiles (see above) can be avoided. They also provide far greater flexibility with regard to materials and design. Every aspect of custom cabinetry can be made to specifications, which makes it both the most desirable and the most expensive choice in the majority of kitchen installations. Diagram of a cabinet, framed style.

Diagram of a cabinet.

Frameless (full-access) cabinets. Frameless (a.k.a. "full-access") cabinets utilize the carcase side, top, and bottom panels to serve same functions as do face-frames in traditional cabinets. In general, frameless cabinets provide better utilization of space than face-frame cabinets. A preference for frameless cabinet design developed in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s following the devastation of World War II and the increasing cost of lumber. A burgeoning market for reconstructed housing in Central Europe offered a fertile environment for developments in efficient hinge and cabinet designs. Frameless cabinets rely on manufacturing methods that permit the production of modern cabinet hardware (hinges and slides) and engineered wood products (for strength, dimensional tolerance, and stability). The intent of the frameless design is to achieve a more streamlined appearance and a more efficient use of space, with ergonomically designed moving components such as drawers, trays, and pull-out cabinets providing better access to interior components. A number of benefits stemming from frameless cabinet design have been successfully applied to face-frame cabinets, such as multiple drawers in base cabinets, full-overlay doors, and cup hinges. With the rise in popularity of European style frameless cabinetry, a significant proportion of the hardware used by U.S. cabinet manufacturers is imported from Europe.

Picture of a kitchen cabinet on display in a home center store.

Cabinet details

Door Mounting. For both face-frame and frameless kitchen cabinets, it is conventional for cabinet doors to overlay the cabinet carcase. Face-frame cabinets allow for various door mounting options. Traditional overlay doors do not abut, allowing a partial view of the face frames when the doors are closed. Full overlay cabinet doors fit closely so that they obscure the face frame when closed. A third and less conventional option for face-frame cabinets is to inset doors into, and flush with, the face frame (see below). Since frameless (see below) cabinet doors also fully overlay their carcases, the two types (frameless and full-overlay face-frame cabinets) have a similar installed appearance (when doors are closed), both may use European cup hinges, and both tend to use decorative door and drawer pulls (since there is no room for fingers at the door or drawer edge when installed).

Space-utilization. Since typical face-frames are 1 1⁄2 inches (38 mm) wide and frameless side panels 3⁄4 inch (19 mm), access to the cabinet interior is 1 1⁄2 inches (38 mm) wider for a typical frameless cabinet relative to a face-frame cabinet. A 12-inch-wide (300 mm) cabinet accommodates a 10-inch-wide (250 mm) drawer in frameless construction or a 8 1⁄2-inch-wide (220 mm) drawer in framed construction. The 1 1⁄2-inch (38 mm) difference is most significant for narrower face-frame cabinets. Hence, the nomenclature "full-access." Custom (higher-cost) face-frame cabinets, which use one 1 1⁄2-inch (38 mm) stile to frame two cabinet openings, can also accommodate wider drawers comparable to frameless cabinets. Frameless wall-oven cabinetry further saves 3 inches (76 mm) of wall space as compared to the same wall-oven installed in a face-frame cabinet, Many, if not most, contemporary ovens (and other cabinet-front-mounted major appliances) have been designed with the space-utilization advantage of frameless cabinets installation in mind. The oven is dimensioned, and thermally insulated, to fit within an industry-standard external width [e.g., 27 or 30 inches (690 or 760 mm)] cabinet cavity, less two standard 3⁄4-inch (19 mm) cabinet side-wall thicknesses while providing for a small space between the oven box and the internal cabinet wall. In ovens, the bezel is sized to fit the full external cavity width and overlay the cabinet side wall. Such an installation avoids any unused lateral space around the oven. (While, hypothetically, ovens can be installed similarly in face-frame cabinets, such an installation may requires cutting away all but 3⁄4 inch (19 mm) of each 1 1⁄2-inch (38 mm) face-frame – specifically not recommended by vendors as it may weaken the joint between side-wall and face-frame – and buttressing face-frame cabinet side walls accordingly.)

Wood options. Frameless cabinets, which exhibit a modern appearance in keeping with the design movement of "minimalism," are typically constructed of particle board, which features a high degree of dimensional stability, adherence to dimensional standards, absence of warping, uniformity, and a lower cost than solid wood and is very strong. Accordingly, the so-called European hinge includes a 35-mm-diameter cup press-fit to a bored recess particularly well-suited to particle board construction. By virtue of the 35-mm "European" cup design, European hinges avoided reliance on screws as a primary mechanism holding the cabinet door to the hinge. Nearly all non-custom framed and frameless cabinetry now use this 35-mm cup design. Plywood and/or solid wood can also be used in frameless cabinet construction, generally at a higher cost.

Hinge design features. Those European hinges intended for use with frameless cabinets afford a quick-release mechanism enabling a door to be removed and replaced without the use of tools. Such hinges typically afford six-way (three-axis) positional adjustment by screwdriver for door alignment. Some accommodate complex motions to avoid interfering with interior cabinet components while fully overlaying the carcases (e.g., permitting the full-interior-cabinet-width dimensions for pull-out trays). Scissors-type articulating hinges support wide-angle non-interfering adjacent doors.

Inset door face-frame cabinetry. A special, and unconventional, category of framed cabinets is represented by those with inset doors. An inset-mounted cabinet door is fitted to the frame in the same way as a typical room door is fitted to the doorway; such doors fit into a frame when closed. (Full-size doors do not simply cover the opening between rooms or at an entrance to a building.) Inset doors require more precise alignment of each door to the containing frame. Further, this alignment must be maintained with use. Upon opening or closing, inset doors are gently braked by the air cushion trapped between the door and frame. This desirable feature is one hallmark of high-quality inset door construction. Frameless or full-overlay face-frame construction can superficially resemble inset construction when doors are designed to fit closely within a cavity formed by surrounding doors, drawers, and/or an adjacent countertop.

Cabinet doors

Cabinet doors may feature a variety of materials such as wood, metal or glass. Wood may be solid wood ("breadboard" construction) or engineered wood or may be mixed (e.g. engineered wood panel in a solid wood frame)

Frames. In the U.S. solid wood frame and panel construction, using either mortise and tenon or cope and stick jointed frames, is traditional, with maple, cherry, oak, birch, and hickory among the most commonly used species. Mortise-and-tenon frames, with their greater strength and permanence, are more costly to produce and less commonly used as compared to cope-and-stick frames. As an alternative, miter joint frames, which may be identifiable by face-surface relief that follows continuously around the frame, have become popular. Miter-jointed frames typically employ embedded metal fasteners to secure frames elements (stiles and rails) cut at a 45° angle. Captured within frames, panels may be either solid or veneered engineered wood (either particle board or medium density fiberboard). Laminates, including those designed to resemble hardwood, can typically be identified by a more rounded appearance associated with the minimum bending radii necessarily entailed by the manufacturing process of applying laminate to an underlying substrate. By comparison, solid surfaces, and solid hardwoods in particular, can be milled with more sharply defined corners, edges, or grooves on either a panel or frame.

Panels. Panels used in frame-and-panel kitchen cabinet doors may be fashioned either of solid wood or covered by paint, veneer, or laminate in which case they are fashioned of engineered wood. The panels are typically not fastened with glue or nails but rather "float" within the frame to accommodate seasonal expansion or contraction of the wood frame.

Solid-door construction. Doors may be fabricated of solid material, either engineered wood (particle board or medium-density fiberboard, but not typically plywood) or solid wood. Engineered wood panels may either be used as slabs or may be shaped to resemble frame-and-panel construction. In either case, engineered wood panels are generally painted, veneered, or laminated. Solid wood panels are typically formed of multiple boards of the selected wood species, jointed together using glue and may either be painted or finished. Solid wood construction offers the possibility of refinishing in case of damage or wear.

Decorative panels. Cabinet doors panels can be used decoratively on cabinet sides, where exposed, for a more finished appearance.

Glass door construction options. Doors may have glass windows constructed of muntins and mullions holding glass panels (as in exterior windows). Other designs either mimic the divided-light look of muntins and mullions with overlays, or may dispense with them altogether. Cabinets using glass doors sometimes use glass shelves and interior lighting from the top of a cabinet. A glass shelf allows light to reach throughout a cabinet. For a special display effect, the interior rear of a cabinet may be covered with a mirrors to further distribute light.

Drawers and trays

A functional design objective for cabinet interiors involves maximization of useful space and utility in the context of the kitchen workflow. Drawers and trays in lower cabinets permit access from above and avoid uncomfortable or painful crouching.

In face-frame construction, a drawer or tray must clear the face-frame stile and is 2 inches (51 mm) narrower than the available cabinet interior space. The loss of 2 inches is particularly noticeable and significant for kitchens including multiple narrow [15-inch (380 mm) or less] cabinets.

In frameless construction, drawer boxes may be sized nearly to the interior opening of the cabinet providing better use of the available space.

However, the same is not true for trays. Even in the case of frameless construction doors and their hinges when open block a portion of the interior cabinet width. Since trays are mounted behind the door, trays are typically significantly narrower than drawers. Special hinges are available that can permit trays of similar width as drawers but they have not come into wide use.

Shelves provide in all cases more storage space than drawers or trays, but are less accessible.

Wall oven cabinets Stock wall-oven cabinets may be adapted to built-in ovens, coffee-makers, or other appliances by removing portions of the cabinet and adding trim panels to achieve a flush installation.

Frameless cabinets provide for wall oven front panel widths equal to the cabinet width (see above). In such an installation the oven front panel occupies a similar profile as a cabinet door. Accordingly, frameless installations for wall-oven make most efficient use of the available wall space in a kitchen.

This effect is difficult to achieve in typical face-frame cabinet installations, as it requires modification to the face-frame (essentially eliminating the face-frame at the oven cut-out).

Cabinet finishes

Cabinets may be finished with opaque paint, opaque lacquer and transparent finishes such as lacquer or varnish. Decorative finishes include distressing, glazing, and toning. The choice of finish can affect the cabinet's color, sheen (from flat to high gloss), and feel.

High pressure laminates or (HPL) are made from resin and paper components under high pressure; in contrast, ordinary wood does not sustain such pressures, and can be crushed to less than half its natural thickness in a hand operated arbor press. The high pressure squeezes the HPL to such a solid density that it becomes highly resistant to damage simply because any utensil or tool striking the HPL will not have a force greater than the force used to form the HPL itself. In effect, the HPL has been dented in advance. HPL can be decorated in any pattern and is applied using contact cement and pressed in place using a "J-roller." It is cut slightly larger than the panel on which it is to be installed and trimmed using a router-like laminate trimmer along the edge. It may also be filed to obtain the final edge. While HPL became prevalent in the twentieth century, since the 1970s the trend has been away from HPL in favor of wood.

Melamine is a coating for furniture board panels in carcases. Its unique white-in-color chemical formulation helps prevent damage by chemicals and gives it impact resistance comparable to HPL. Melamine coated boards are widely available in home centers for purposes such as shelving.

Thermofoil is a plastic coating laminate applied to furniture-board. It is typically applied to boards which have been milled, shaped, or routed into a complex profile. While thermofoil can have a unique glossy sheen and have strength and impact resistance almost as much as HPL, it can't be repaired if damaged.

Paint is usually applied to maple cabinet doors or to MDF (Medium-density fibreboard) with a spray gun as opposed to a paint brush or roller, in order to achieve a smooth coating. Most large-scale cabinet makers apply one or two coats of primer before the paint as well as a protective coat of lacquer afterwards.

Stain is a water or thinner based dye that allows for the grain of the wood to show through. When it comes to application there are two main categories of staining. wiping stains and spray stains. Wiping stains are sprayed on to the Wood and then wiped off whereas the spray stain is left to dry without wiping. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to staining it would is that the color of the wood also affects the end result. For example, a stain on oak will not be the same color as the same stain on Maple.

Cabinet hardware

Indoor picture of kitchen cabinet hardware options on a sales display.

Hardware is the term used for metal fittings incorporated into a cabinet extraneous of the wood or engineered wood substitute and the countertop. The most basic hardware consists of hinges and drawer/door pulls, although only hinges are an absolute necessity for a cabinet since pulls can be fashioned of wood or plastic, and drawer slides were traditionally fashioned of wood. In a modern kitchen it is highly unusual to use wood for a drawer slides owing to the much superior quality of metal drawer slides/sides.

Drawers and trays

Drawers and trays make it easier to access a cabinet's contents. They are a substantial benefit because they reduce bending and squatting. The only drawback is slightly less usable space which is taken up by the slides as well as door clearances. A typical drawer is 5 inches (130 mm) narrower than a comparable shelf. A drawer can usually hold about 75 to 100 lbs for ordinary use. Using slides, mounted on the side (reducing width slightly) or bottom (completely out of sight), a drawer or tray can be extended considerably with a smooth, linear motion using minimum effort.

Drawer extension is the exposed proportion of a fully extended drawer. Traditional drawers with wood-on-wood runners can only be extended about three-quarters; however, modern runners enable full-extension drawers. A slide's design parameters are its height, depth, extension, weight rating, durability, serviceability, and smoothness of operation. One new feature is soft-close buffering.

Specialty hardware

Kitchen cabinet hardware displayed in a store in 2009. There is a large variety of specialty hardware for kitchen cabinets. Special hardware for corner and other blind cabinets makes their contents more easily accessible. They may be in the form of lazy susans with or without a wedge cut out or of tray slides which enable the hidden corner space to be occupied with trays that slide both laterally and forwards/backwards. Sponge drawers use special hinges that fit between the cabinet front and the sink.

Buying cabinets

Before buying cabinets, precise measurements are essential otherwise there may be unutilized space, cabinets may not fit, or there may be interference between various elements of the kitchen, such as doors and drawers.

Buyers can buy pre-built "stock" cabinets for fast delivery which usually arrive in a week or less. In contrast, custom-made cabinets can have longer delivery times, such as four weeks.

Base cabinets are usually 24 inches (610 mm) deep and 34 1⁄2 inches (880 mm) high to accommodate a countertop surface normally 36 inches (910 mm) above the floor.

Wall cabinets are usually 12 inches (300 mm) deep. Their heights are often 30 inches (760 mm), for example, if mounted to a soffit. In a kitchen with 8-foot-high (2.4 m) ceilings, a 36-inch-high (910 mm) wall cabinet will leave about 6 inches (150 mm) of space above the cabinet which can be covered with a crown molding; a full 42-inch-high (1,100 mm) wall cabinet will run straight to the top of the ceiling. Wall cabinets are sometimes called "upper cabinets." The distance from countertop to wall cabinet is usually 18 inches (460 mm), but this distance is sometimes less if there is undercabinet lighting. Cabinets can have an open top for displaying ornaments. Ceilings higher than 9 feet (2.7 m) can permit another level of cabinets.

Cabinet dimensions are specified with width first, height second, depth last. The width–height–depth is a generally accepted convention. A 18x36x12 cabinet is therefore 18 inches (460 mm) wide, 36 inches (910 mm) tall, and 12 inches (300 mm) deep. Sometimes upper cabinets are presumed to be 12 inches (300 mm) deep, so only the width and height are given. For example, a "W1836" label means wall-mounted cabinet [12 inches (300 mm) deep] is 18 inches (460 mm) wide and 36 inches (910 mm) high.

Custom cabinetry, while expensive, can fit the available space attractively, and can fit into walls which aren't exactly flat or straight. They can combine more than one opening and eliminate unsightly doubled stiles in face-frame installations as well as bring aesthetic appeal using unusual woods or finishes. Custom cabinets sometimes offer inset cabinet doors, and can match existing or period furniture styles. It's sometimes possible to mix custom and stock cabinetry which have identical finishes.

Cabinets can be purchased from specialty retailers, kitchen remodelers, home centers, on-line retailers, and ready-to-assemble furniture manufacturers. Some installers offer a package deal from measurement, to construction, to installation.

Cabinets are sometimes delivered in fully assembled form. Inspect carcases carefully before installation, since defects are difficult to repair after installation. Ready-to-assemble furniture cabinets are lower-in-cost and are delivered in a flat box. Some courses teach homeowners how to build their own cabinets.

Cleaning cabinets Since kitchens are rooms for food preparation, cabinets which store food should be kept clean with cloth microfiber or feather dusters. Tough grease stains and coarse dirt can be removed with warm water and a grease solvent, then wiped clean with a plain cotton cloth. Window cleaners and clean cloths can be used with a microfiber cloth to clean up.

Classy cabinetry can make any home look like a million bucks. If a kitchen sports some stunning storage doors, then there’s no telling what other intricate interior beauties can be found throughout the house. Because cabinets are a key factor in defining a kitchen’s character, it’s vital to choose the right style for your space.

Cabinetry can seem relatively superficial in comparison to the structural components of a building, but because kitchen cabinets take up well over a quarter of a kitchen remodel budget, it is imperative that architects and interior designers do their research before specifying this element. Arguably the most important part of picking out cabinetry — even more than style and functionality — is choosing the right material.

Many architects, interior designers and homeowners aim for solid wood as one of the main materials in a residence. But we already know that solid wood expands and contracts, so it is not always the best solution for kitchen cabinetry, flooring applications or countertops. In most cases, engineered wood products are used instead because they’re just as reliable and a lot cheaper. The most widely used kinds for cabinet boxes are constructed from medium density fiberboard (MDF), plywood, particleboard with melamine and sometimes stainless steel.

Setting aside the aesthetic qualities of the cabinet door, it also pays to give close attention to the interior construction of your cabinetry.

Medium Density Fiberboard

MDF is a high-grade composite material made from recycled wood fibers and resin. It’s CNC-milled under high pressure, often in one-piece frames with the center cut out for the recessed panel. The dense and heavy product is nearly synonymous with IKEA cabinetry, as, over the years, the Scandinavian company has cornered the world supply for their various kitchen collections. MDF attracts consumers because of its resistance to cracking and peeling — meaning it’s super easy to paint over. Plus, MDF is smoother than plywood.


Many manufacturers gravitate toward producing plywood cabinets not only because it’s a relatively low-cost material, but also because it’s said to have a higher resistance to moisture and greater stability than MDF. Each board that makes up plywood cabinetry is layered like a sandwich, with thin wood piles glued on top of one another. An exposed plastic laminate, wood veneer or thermofoil coats the outside for added protection.


Particleboard cabinets are maybe the least conventional cabinet-construction method. To create particleboard, wood chips and particles are combined with an adhesive, which is then fused together into the panels. This mixture is the least firm of all the options because it’s basically shards of wood ground up into little pieces, and the only thing truly holding it together is the glue.

Stainless Steel

While stainless steel gives a kitchen a coveted contemporary feel, it’s somehow not as desirable as wood. Stainless steel is more commonly used in professional kitchens, but it’s hard to clean off fingerprints and scratches. Stainless steel doesn’t expand and contract like wood, making it a nice option for moisture-rich places.

Cabinets usually come ready to assemble, but semi-custom options are great if you want an added touch of control over the final product. One aspect of cabinetry that people often overlook are the drawers. Usually, these are made up of the same material as the cabinet box, but on high-quality cabinets, they might be made of solid wood so as to withstand abuse from future overuse. The drawer fronts will likely feature solid wood or MDF.

Despite the importance of specifying the right material for the structural body of the cabinets, the top priority of architects and their clients is often the cabinet door. It is, after all, the most visible and character-defining component of kitchen cabinetry, and there are endless options for specifying it. If your client wants the doors painted with a pop of pink or an elegant white, MDF is the way to go. Note, however, that MDF doors are grainless; so they can’t be stained. If the classic natural look fits better with the overall design of the kitchen, choose solid wood doors constructed in a framed or slab format. Just be aware of all the wood swatch options you’ll have to filter through.

Cabinets define the kitchen.

Comprising up to 75% of the wall space, base and wall cabinets--along with the occasional pantry and tall cabinets--are the main element that states your kitchen's style.

The ever-popular Shaker style, as shown here, can be brought into the 21st century with brushed stainless steel fixtures and a pepper-red paint scheme. Add a natural stone like travertine for a perfect balance of textures and colors.

Simple Shaker Style With Glass Doors

Give your kitchen a rich, modern look with dark-stained kitchen cabinets.

The translucent, full door glass layered panels and interior lighting takes the edge off of the darkness. Crisp horizontals in the form of nickel finish fixtures further enliven this kitchen. It's easy to duplicate, and relatively inexpensive--it comes from mainline cabinet retailer, Kraftmaid.

Merillat Cabinets and Avonite

Merillat has good kitchen cabinets and reasonably priced, too. And for anyone looking for kitchen cabinet ideas in the slightly-showy arena, this is one. It's Merillat's Venetian Fresco cabinets, part of their LaBelle Fresco line.

Check out the way the back-left cabinet is backgrounded in Pistachio Avonite (a solid-surface counter material).

Also, that slab of apparently foot-thick granite on the right? It's nothing more than thin laminate wrapped around a plywood base.

Black Kitchen Cabinets

Not for the faint of heart: variegated birch panels in Praline finish for maximum visual impact.

Add in that weighty kitchen island in Onyx finish, and you've got the perfect kitchen cabinetry for any superhero crimefighter.

Practical or Cutting-Edge: Your Pick

Here's a kitchen cabinet idea that can go either way. Merillat Masterpiece is a square-edged laminate cabinet that comes in only white or cream.

Furniture company Thomasville manufactures stylish kitchen cabinets that excel in practicality.

Witness this box column pullout. It's an awesome way to make use of those wasted inches next to dishwashers--the space that typically just gets a fill-in panel. Plenty of room here for spices, boxes of pasta, you name it.

But that's the point of the Masterpiece series. It's designed purely for a contemporary look. It can serve as too-cool-for-you kitchen cabinetry or as practical home office furniture. Heck, you could probably stick in it the garage, if you wanted.

Slide-Out Kitchen Cabinets

Surely, you've seen slide-out kitchen cabinets before. You're thinking you've seen them all.

But Thomasville Cabinetry (the leaders in practical cabinetry) has what they call a SuperCabinet. This kitchen cabinet idea allows you to slide out practically every square inch of available space for better reach.

And "toe kick drawer" means using up that formerly wasted space above floor level but below the bottom-most cabinet level. It's the area that is usually covered up by a panel called a toe kick.

Banquette and Kitchen Cabinet Combination

Armstrong, mainly known as a manufacturer of flooring, also produces kitchen cabinets.

This design fuses the kitchen with the dining area. A nook or banquette is spliced onto the back of Town & Country Maple Cabinets built up to form a kitchen island. The finish on this island is Espresso.

Practical Kitchen Cabinet Pull-Outs

Armstrong does well when it comes to solid, practical kitchen cabinetry, and this is exemplified by its ChefCenter series.

ChefCenter is designed with practicality in mind--tons of pull-outs, sliders, drawers sized around pots and pans (instead of the reverse), and much more.

Comfortable and Country Cabinets

Starmark Cabinetry is not only headquartered in Sioux Falls, SD, but it builds its cabinets there. It produces cabinets ranging from casual-country to sophisticated modern.

Fully Outfitted Kitchen Cabinet Design

Cabinet-wise, this kitchen has a bit of everything. Glass doors. Bi-level counters (with breakfast bar). Fluting. Cabinet above microwave. Even a nifty little alcove built into the kitchen island.

Drawers are the ultimate accessible and flexible storage devices. Here is why I love them, and why all my clients love them:

Drawers are ergonomic: They come out to you, the user. No squatting or bending down to see what you've got. Just pull the drawer out and look down. As we age, our backs become more sensitive to lifting, so drawers are wonderful for folks who have trouble lifting or reaching up into upper cabinetry.

Drawers are flexible: They can hold almost anything in your kitchen. I love using a three drawer stack; these typically have a smaller top drawer with 2 larger drawers below. Top drawers are usually for utensils, silverware and smaller items. The larger drawers, however, can be used for a multitude of kitchen items; pots and pans, lids, dishes (can use a peg system), plastic ware, baking/ cookie sheets, small appliances or food.

Did I mention drawers are easy? One v. two motions in a kitchen can do wonders for your speed cooking routine. Drawer operation takes one easy pull versus a door/ roll-out arrangement which takes two (open doors, then pull the roll-out). This easy operation is why so many people fall in love with drawers.

Drawers have clean lines: I don't care what kind of kitchen you are planning. Traditional, farmhouse, rustic, transitional or contemporary. Drawers keep clean, horizontal lines that are very attractive. A series of three-drawer base cabinets in a kitchen layout just makes sense.

So you are doing a beautiful kitchen remodel or building a new kitchen, and you want to put your old plastic trash bin to the side of the island?

No way! Get that trash behind a door; nobody wants to see (or smell) that!

If I could tell you one thing that you most definitely need in your kitchen, it's a trash unit, built-in to your cabinetry. Preferably a double, for trash and recycling.

Most double units take up a mere 18" of space and are available with a soft-close mechanism, for maximum trash disposal pleasure. Many of them are short enough to accept a top drawer.

Trust me on this, get a trash pull-out, you won't regret it!

Vertical dividers are super useful for many different kitchen objects.

Cutting boards, cookie sheets, muffin tins, platters, baking pans, pie dishes, large lids and even cooling racks.

These vertical dividers are often placed in the upper portion of tall cabinetry, such as an oven cabinet, pantry or deep refrigerator upper. They can also be used in narrow base cabinets from 9-12" that may not make sense to place a drawer stack.

Vertical dividers are another cabinet feature you will love!

We all use some spices in our kitchens. Salt, pepper, paprika, garlic seasoning, the list goes on. We accumulate spices almost every time we try a new recipe.

Organizing spices in a wall cabinet can be tricky. When small spice bottles are stocked together on a shelf, it can be difficult to see what you have without removing the entire shelf.

My absolute favorite spice units have tiered shelves. Tiered shelves allow spices to be displayed so you can view everything you have.

One 12" spice pullout next to your cooking surface is ideal. Some people who have a ton of spices may even opt for 2 on either side for a more symmetrical look.

Not all kitchens have them, but when utilized correctly, corners can be one of the best storage features of the kitchen.

Types of corner storage:

Lazy Susan: a corner unit that turns a 90-degree angle on both sides. Typically seen in 36" sizes. These will have 2 carousels with or without a center supporting pole (better without a pole). They spin 360 degrees and can fit lots of kitchen stuff.

Blind Corner: These project out from one wall with a filler on the adjacent wall. They may be used because a lazy susan won't work with the cabinet layout OR because you prefer them. If you have a blind corner, you will want a pull-out unit. These come in many different configurations. Read more about the blind corner.

Corner Drawers: These are drawers with "L" shaped fronts. They can be found in 39-45 degree widths from the corner. Blum and Hafele make units that utilize the back triangular corner of the space. When extended fully, they can be up to 30" in depth. These are your more expensive option, but they most definitely create a WOW factor.

Don't leave these options up to your contractor or cabinet supplier. Be proactive and make sure your money is well spent. There are hundreds of options available to you, the well-informed consumer.

These options are easy and when placed in the right locations, can make a world of difference in the function of your new kitchen.